Discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, the large island of Cuba was soon placed on the map and became a Spanish colony. The island has since become known for its socialism and embargo with the United States.
In 1961 the socialism system was introduced and thousands of Cubans fled to American soil, many settling in Miami just 90 miles away from Cuba. Over eleven million Cuban residents remain, the majority of whom reside in Havana, a capital city with Spanish plazas, colourful decor and American classic cars.
Things to do in Havana
1. Explore the old city and the plazas
The chic derelict houses of the old town ooze a charm and you can get romantically lost in the crumbling back streets and pretty plazas.
2. Enjoy a cuban cigar in the Chocolate museum
A chocolate one of course or even a chocolate classic car. It’s more of a cafe than a museum but signs on the wall explain the process and history of chocolate making in Cuban (but you'll need Spanish to translate it).
3. Take an Ernest Hemingway tour
Once home to the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, the town of San Francisco de Paula is just ten minutes outside of Havana. There's even a hotel named after him!
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
4. Visit San Carlos de la Cabana fortress
Take a boat, a taxi or a yellow tuk tuk to check out the old fort and the Christ of Havana, a giant statue of Jesus (their rival for Rio).
5. Cruise the streets in an American classic car
This is pricey though but where else can you experience the front seat of a pink cadillac?
6. Take an art tour
View Cuba’s contemporary art scene or learn about Cuba’s customs, beliefs and folklore on an Afro-Cuban tour.
7. Enjoy a Mojito on one of the roof terraces
My favourite is the one on the sixth floor of Hotel Ambas Mundos with views of the Christ of Havana across the water. Hotel Raquel has a gorgeous Italian-style terrace which you can just view only. How do you find them? Just ask in each hotel if they have a roof terrace on the top floor.
8. Listen to live music
Buena Vista Social Club – this famous club has produced music that has rippled around the globe. Every Cuban you meet will try and take you there but it is very pricey to get in. There claims to be a smaller in the Old Town but you will have to pay a service fee if you go in. There’s Flamenco each night at El Meson la Flota if you need a break from salsa.
9. Visit the Revolution Museum
If you don’t know much about Cuba then this museum is a good way of learning about the Cuban revolution which took place from 1953 to 1959 but most of it is in Spanish with some translating to English. The actual museum is the former headquarters of the Cuban government.
10. See how a Cuban cigar is made
Just west of Havana are tobacco fields where you can watch how the famous cigars are produced. If you do this independently a bus runs to and from Havana once a day and just allows a couple of hours there so consider staying overnight if you want to spend longer.
TIP – Take the Havana bus tour for less than €5 which takes you along the promenade from the old city into the new along the promenade past faded, crumbling fifties style buildings.
Where to stay in Havana
There’s a wider choice of accommodation here than in other parts of the country. If you really want to interact with the locals and practice your Spanish then a Casa Particular is the place to stay. Prices are fixed by the government so you’re pretty much guaranteed the same rate regardless of which one you choose to stay.
Hotels are everywhere but if you want to chill out and have all your food and drink included then stay at the Hotel Marina Hemingway based near the Marina.
If you’re feeling really swish, the Saratoga Hotel is the best hotel in town in Havana. It’s so fancy that Beyonce and Jay Z stayed there when visiting Havana!
How to get to Havana
I took the bus from Trinidad to Havana which took seven hours. There seems to be three a day and the last one arrives about 10pm. Be aware that as soon as the last bus arrives the bus station closes and there are no more taxis so pre-order one or arrange a lift to get to your chosen accommodation.
So is Havana worth the trip? Trinidad is still my favourite place in Cuba but Havana is definitely worth seeing. The food is cheaper here, the people are friendly and you can spend at least three days here just meandering around exploring (plus it's the home of Havana Club rum!)
Is Cuba good for solos?
Yes if you don’t mind being asked how long you're here for, where you’re from or whether you would like to dance by Cuban men – they are extremely friendly. And according to statistics there are twice as many security officers for each resident so it’s extremely safe. Even the security are nice!
My advice – Visit Cuba whilst it still hold its charm.